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Motley Crew

Posted by Bob on December 16, 2000

In Reply to: Motley Crew posted by Bruce Kahl on December 15, 2000

: : Does anyone know the origin of the phrase, 'motley crew'? We know what it means, but where did it come from and who used it first? Thanks!

: I do not know who used it first but motley is an adjective meaning "speck" from the Middle English mot or mote which in Middle Dutch can mean "sand".
: Sand is composed of diverse and often incongruous elements--hence, the term "motley crew", a phrase maybe describing the employees of a ocean going vessel.

I found a reference from 1748 from something called "Anson's Voyage" which speaks of "with this motley crew, Pizarro set sail." Motley has meant many-colored (like a patchwork) for centuries, and it's the colorful costume of a Fool. Motley (the noun) is cloth of vibrant mismatched colors. Motley (the adjective) borrows from the sense of a fool's costume, and a motley crew suggests a mismatched, raggle-taggle bunch of less than organized troops.